There has been an increased drive towards Evidence Based Policing in recent years. Unlike in other public sector services, such as health and education, randomised controlled trials in the police setting are relatively rare. This paper discusses some of the methodological and practical challenges of conducting a randomised controlled trial in the police setting in the UK, based on our experience of the Connect trial. This pragmatic, cluster-randomised controlled trial investigated the effectiveness of a face-to-face training intervention for frontline officers in comparison to routine training. The primary outcome was the number of incidents which resulted in a police response reported to North Yorkshire Police control room in a 1-month period up to 6 months after delivery of training.
The methodological and practical challenges that we experienced whilst conducting the Connect trial are discussed under six headings: establishing the unit of randomisation; population of interest and sample size; co-production of evidence; time frame; outcomes; and organisational issues.
Recommendations on the conduct of future randomised controlled trials in the police setting are made. To understand the context in which research is undertaken, collaboration between police and academia is needed and police officers should be embedded within trial management groups. Engagement with police data analysts to understand what data is available and facilitate obtaining trial data is also recommended. Police forces may wish to review their IT systems and recording practices. Pragmatic trials are encouraged and time frames need to allow for trial set-up and obtaining relevant ethical approvals.
ISRCTN Registry, ID: ISRCTN11685602. Retrospectively registered on 13 May 2016.